When I was a younger man I used to be fit. Not ‘iron man’ fit granted; but fit nevertheless. I was never a great sportsman, but I ran six or seven miles at a time, three or four times a week. I was pretty skinny, and bulked up a little with some weight training; but even then could pretty much get away with eating (and drinking!) whatever I liked whenever I liked; maintaining a healthy weight of never much more than 150-160 pounds at about 5’10”.
Through my twenties however the bulk came more and more from my poor diet and less from exercise; and by my mid-thirties I was downright unfit and overweight. In fact it was in my mid-thirties I got my wake-up call; a poor lifestyle and a stressful, sedentary job had taken its toll. After yet another late night work-related callout, I awoke in the early hours of the morning from a brief coma-like sleep with chest pains and shortness of breath. What I suspected initially to be a coronary arrest, was ‘fortunately’ simply a nocturnal panic attack; my body’s way of telling me that after nearly a decade of total neglect enough was enough.
Immediately it became clear that in addition to a better work-life balance, proper sleep and better diet, exercise was a big part of what my system was sorely missing. I got immediate benefit even just from getting outside and walking every day. My real saviour though in the last few years has been Taiji. With no previous experience of the martial arts, but a good teacher to lead the way, in just over four years the training has given me a plethora of real benefits; including lower blood pressure, greater core strength, balance, flexibility and a co-ordination I didn’t even have as a much younger man. It has also made me realise that perhaps I am capable of all kinds of things I would previously have thought impossible. As my Taiji instructor Joe says; the only barriers are the ones we make in our own minds. The training of the mind and body in Taiji has even helped me to overcome some of my fears – such as heights.
Now just (but definitely) the wrong side of forty, I feel I need to build upon this experience, and this is where this column comes in. In parallel with my ongoing martial arts training, there are other things I want to explore. One thing my Taiji training hasn’t improved sufficiently is my cardio fitness; at least at the level I am training currently; and this will no doubt hold me back in other endeavours. I am also still carrying too much weight around with me, at nearly 200 pounds (my fondness for potato chips/crisps and shortcake biscuits needs to be curtailed).
So I have decided to see just what it is possible for a previously thoroughly unfit and incapable forty-something guy to do; building on my Taiji training, my cycling (I like to get out on my bike, though not usually for more than 20 minutes at a time) and with some easily achievable lifestyle changes, I will use this forum to share my experiences. Furthermore, if I can get my fitness level up a little, I will explore some of the other disciplines I am interested in pursuing, no doubt with assistance from teachers and trainers such as Joe – experts in their fields – along the way. In the long term, it’s all up for grabs: running, cycling, climbing, parkour; hell – I might even learn to swim properly. I’ve never been comfortable or capable in the water.
For now though I’ll set an easy target: run a mile or two without stopping or having a coronary; and take a little weight off.
Why not come along on this journey, get fit and try something new? After all, it’s never too late.